Archive for the ‘Green Patents’ category

Don’t Mess With GS: GreenShift’s Ethanol Patent Enforcement Roadshow

May 17th, 2010

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In previous posts (here and here) I discussed GreenShift Corporation’s (GreenShift) patent suits against New Jersey-based separator and decanter maker  GEA Westfalia Separator, Inc. (Westfalia) and ethanol maker Cardinal Ethanol (“Cardinal”).

In both suits GreenShift accused the defendants of infringing U.S. Patent No. 7,601,858 (‘858 Patent), entitled “Method of processing ethanol byproducts and related subsystems.”

GS CleanTech Corporation (GS), a wholly owned subsidiary of GreenShift, has recently turned up the heat on a host of ethanol producers, firing off complaints in courthouses across the midwestern United States.  The recent lawsuits include:

GS CleanTech Corp. v. Big River Resources Galva, LLC, filed February 12, 2010 in the Northern District of Illinois (gs-galva_complaint.pdf);

GS CleanTech Corp. v. Amaizing Energy Atlantic, LLC, filed May 3, 2010 in the Northern District of Iowa (gs-amaizing_complaint.pdf);

GS CleanTech Corp. v. Center Ethanol, LLC, filed May 3, 2010 in the Northern District of Illinois (gs-centerethanol_complaint.pdf);

GS CleanTech Corp. v. Bushmills Ethanol, Inc., filed May 3, 2010 in the District of Minnesota (gs-bushmills_complaint.pdf);

GS CleanTech Corp. v. United Wisconsin Grain Producers, LLC, filed May 3, 2010 in the Western District of Wisconsin (gs-wisconsin_complaint.pdf);

GS CleanTech Corp. v. Blue Flint Ethanol, LLC, filed May 3, 2010 in the District of North Dakota (gs-blueflint_complaint.pdf); and

GS CleanTech Corp. v. Iroquois Bio-Energy Company, filed May 3, 2010 in the Northern District of Indiana (gs-iroquois_complaint.pdf).

The ‘858 Patent is directed to methods of recovering oil from byproducts of ethanol production using the process of dry milling, which creates a waste stream comprised of byproducts called whole stillage.

According to the ‘858 Patent, whole stillage contains valuable oil but prior processes for recovering this oil have been expensive or inefficient.

GS’s patented method includes mechanically separating the whole stillage into distillers wet grains and thin stillage and then running the thin stillage into an evaporator to form a concentrated byproduct, or syrup.  The syrup is fed through a second centrifuge, which separates usable corn oil from the syrup.

By my count the complaints filed this month bring GS’s patent enforcement total to nine lawsuits, which suddenly makes this a major green patent story.  Stay tuned.

MOU Gives AIQ Option to License PetroAlgae’s Micro-Crop Technology in Chile

May 12th, 2010

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PetroAlgae is a Florida-based renewable energy company that licenses its technology for growing and harvesting “micro-crops” such as algae, diatoms, micro-angiosperms and cyanobacteria for large scale production of biofuels.

Last month PetroAlgae announced a deal with Chile’s Asesorias e Inversiones Quilicura (AIQ).  The memorandum of understanding signed by the parties provides AIQ with an option to purchase a license to build a full micro-crop technology system in Chile to produce green gasoline, diesel and jet fuel (see the Recharge News story here).

According to PetroAlgae’s technology description, its system has a “modular, flexible design construction” that enables “near-continuous” growth and harvesting of a wide variety of micro-crops.  The company uses “proprietary methods of controlling nutrients and light exposure to produce unsurpassed per-acre yields of biomass and protein extracts.” 

The large quantities of biomass produced by the growth and harvesting technology can then be refined into transportation fuels.

PetroAlgae owns at least two international patent applications relating to its micro-crop technology.  International Patent Application No. PCT/US2007/006466 (‘466 Application) is entitled “Systems and Methods for Large-Scale Production and Harvesting of Oil-Rich Algae” and is directed to systems and methods for continuous harvest of microorganisms on a large scale.

Disclosed systems include a central seed fermentation area with numerous final fermentation ponds emanating from the central seed fermentation area and arranged, for example, in a pie shape.  The final ponds can be of various shapes or dimensions to accommodate different ratios of seed to final fermentation, different growth rates of organisms, etc.

According to the ‘466 Application, wedge-shaped ponds are particularly well suited for growing photosynthetic organisms in continuous culture because media can be added near the point of the wedge and subsequently move toward the wide portion of the wedge, which allows greater surface area and sunlight for the multiplying cells.

With numerous pools, “the growth cycle can be offset between each pool such that there can always be at least one pool ready for harvest each day.”

International Patent Application No. PCT/US2007/020211 (‘211 Application), entitled “Tubular Microbial Growth System,” is directed to continuous harvest methods using a bioreactor system for growing microorganisms. 

The ‘211 Application describes numerous tubular growth units, or bioreactor pipes, that can each be seeded from a single “nursery” bioreactor.  The growth cycles can be offset so there is always at least one bioreactor pipe ready for harvest each day.

The bioreactor pipes can be coated to selectively pass and/or reflect specific wavelengths of light to regulate light exposure for the growing bugs.

The PetroAlgae-AIQ agreement is another example of a partnership to effect green technology transfer from developed countries to developing countries and emerging markets, despite claims that patents are a barrier to such transfer.

However, it appears this tech transfer deal so far has not been hindered by PetroAlgae’s IP.  We’ll see if AIQ exercises its licensing option.

In Hybrid Patent Case Toyota Argues Preclusion to Avoid Exclusion

May 7th, 2010

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In previous posts (here, here and here), I’ve discussed the patent litigation between hybrid vehicle technology company Paice and Japanese automaker Toyota in the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC).

This case centers on Paice’s allegations that Toyota’s importation of the third generation Prius, the Camry Hybrid, the Lexus HS250h and RX450h (Accused Products) infringe U.S. Patent No. 5,343,970 (‘970 Patent). 

In a prior action in the Eastern District of Texas Paice won a jury verdict that the second generation Prius, the Highlander and the Lexus RX 400h infringed two claims of the ‘970 Patent under the doctrine of equivalents, and the verdict was affirmed on appeal (see my previous post about the verdict and appeal here). 

The court awarded Paice an ongoing royalty of $25 per infringing vehicle, which was later increased to $98, but the court denied Paice’s request for an injunction.

Last month in the ITC case, the ITC reversed an administrative law judge’s ruling that Toyota was barred from asserting a defense of non-infringement of the ‘970 patent and from challenging the validity or enforceability of the ‘970 patent under the principles of claim preclusion and issue preclusion because of the prior federal district court and appeals court rulings against Toyota.

Claim preclusion prevents a succession of lawsuits on a common claim by precluding re-litigation of the same claim between the same parties in a second forum in the absence of certain exceptions.

The ITC opinion (itc_opinion.pdf) found the only “claim” presented in the investigation is Paice’s and “thus claim preclusion cannot be applied as a sword by Paice against Toyota.”

Significantly, the ITC opinion went on to say that “if this investigation is part of the same ‘claim’ as the district court action, and if no exception to claim preclusion applies, then this investigation is precluded altogether.”

Toyota subsequently filed a renewed motion for summary determination (toyota_motion.pdf) asking the presiding administrative law judge to dismiss the case on the ground that Paice’s claim is barred by the doctrine of claim preclusion.

According to Toyota’s motion, the ITC investigation is part of the same “claim” as the prior Texas district court action and none of the exceptions applies. 

The only “arguably relevant” exception – that the plaintiff was unable to seek a certain remedy or form of relief in the first action – does not apply, Toyota contends, because there is no meaningful difference between the injunction Paice sought in the district court and the limited exclusion order Paice has requested in the ITC.

In its opposition brief (paice_opp.pdf), Paice counters that claim preclusion should not apply because its ITC claim involves new products introduced by Toyota subsequent to the earlier district court action and therefore is based on acts of alleged infringement that occurred after that case.  Thus, Paice contends, the ITC case cannot be deemed the “same cause of action” as the first suit.

Paice also argues that some of the exceptions to claim preclusion apply here, including that it was unable to rely on certain theories in the district court action and unable to seek the exclusionary relief there that is only available in the ITC.

Much is riding on the determination of this motion:  Paice has requested a permanent limited exclusion order barring entry into the U.S. of the Accused Products.

Pelamis’s Wave Energy Converter and Marine Connection System Get Ocean Power to Shore

May 2nd, 2010

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Pelamis Wave Power (Pelamis) is an Edinburgh, UK company that makes a snake-like device for generating energy from ocean waves.  Pelamis recently announced that it has secured an order for its P2 Wave Energy Converter from ScottishPower Renewables (see Recharge story here).

Pelamis’s P2 Wave Energy Converter (improved from the prior P1 model and rated at 750 kW) consists of several cylindrical sections connected by hinged joints, which move in ocean waves.  Hydraulic rams resist the motion of the joints and pump high pressure fluid through hydraulic motors, which drive generators to produce electricity. 

The generated power is fed through an “umbilical” cable to a junction on the seabed and then linked to shore.  Pelamis’s International Patent Application No. PCT/GB2009/050732 (‘732 Application), entitled “Marine connection system and method,” is directed to a system to facilitate faster connection between a marine structure and a sub-sea umbilical cable.

The connection system (1) comprises a buoyant winching system (2) having a winch (9) that can be towed to an off-shore location by a tug or other vessel.  Cable (3) is connected to cable (4) via a latching mechanism having a first element (5) and a second element (6). 

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The second element (6) is permanently located at the connection site and is connected to a location buoy (32) using a tether line (26).  The buoyant winching system (2) may include a frame (7) mounted between two buoyancy units (8).  The winch (9) is carried on the frame (7) and has a reel (10) and a winch line (11).

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A motor (12) is mounted on the frame (7) and may be mounted on the winch (9) for rotation and axial drive of the reel (10).  The line (11) is wound around the reel (10) such that it can be selectively paid out and wound in by rotation of the reel.

The ‘732 Application also discloses embodiments of the connection system used in conjunction with a marine structure “which comprises the first body to be connected to the second body,” which I read to be Pelamis’s sectional Wave Energy Converter.

Electrovaya’s SuperPolymer is Ram Tough

April 23rd, 2010

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Electrovaya is an Ontario, Canada company that makes advanced batteries and battery systems.

Last month Electrovaya announced that it was selected by Chrysler as the battery supplier for the carmaker’s Ram plug-in hybrid electric vehicle demonstration program.  The Ram PHEV will use Electrovaya’s 12kWh lithium ion battery.

One of Electrovaya’s major innovations is its SuperPolymer brand battery technology, which the company’s web site calls “a novel nanostructured lithium ion polymer technology platform.”  This technology provides faster, more efficient transport of lithium, and therefore greater energy density, according to Electrovaya.

According to Electrovaya’s web site, the company has over 150 patents and pending applications worldwide.  One key patent is U.S. Patent No. 7,588,862 (‘862 Patent), which relates to the polymer technology.

The ‘862 Patent is entitled “Composite polymer electrolytes for a rechargeable lithium battery” and is directed to a composite electrolyte for use in thin plate rechargeable lithium batteries.  The electrolyte may be a solid laminate or a separator sheet to act as a barrier between the positive and negative electrodes of the battery.

A separator embodiment comprises an inert porous or micro-porous polymer laminate (12) coated with a polymer coating (14) containing a dissociable lithium compound.  The polymer coating is on the exposed surface of the laminate (12) and, during the coating process, partially flows into some of the pores (15) of the laminate (12). 

The separator could have just one face of the laminate (12) coated with the second polymer (14), as shown here, or could have both faces coated. 

The portion of unfilled pores (15) can be filled with a desired lithium salt containing organic solution (16).  Electrodes (18, 18′) are in contact with the separator laminate (12).  Current collectors (20, 20′) are located on the external surfaces of electrodes (18, 18′).

According to the ‘862 Patent, existing solid polymer electrolyte laminates had higher concentrations of dissociable lithium ions, but they frequently had low mechanical strength. 

The patented electrolyte boosts a battery’s energy density by increasing the concentration of dissociable lithium ions per unit volume in the electrolyte while maintaining the mechanical strength of the laminate:

It has now been found that the amount of dissociable lithium ions can be increased without increasing the thickness of the electrolyte, and simultaneously providing desirable mechanical strength and integrity…

Grid Net Attracts Big Name Investors, Leaves Policy to Utilities

April 19th, 2010

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Greentech Media recently reported that Cisco has joined Intel and GE in making equity investments in broadband smart grid startup Grid Net.

According to Grid Net’s web site, the company’s “software platforms provide an online, real-time view and control of the Smart Grid network.” 

The company’s PolicyNet software centralizes management and control of “enterprise policies,” AKA business rules, that can be used in connection with millions of smart grid devices. 

Grid Net owns a couple of U.S. patent applications, including Application Pub. No. 2008/0219239 (‘239 Application), which appears to cover the PolicyNet product.

The ‘239 Application is entitled “Policy-based utility networking” and is directed to systems and methods for policy-based networking of an electric grid. 

The ‘239 Application describes a policy-based residential networked meter such as an energy switch router device.  To make your head spin for just a moment, the application says the device:

serves as an essential internetworked, intelligent, sensor, meter, recorder, controller, policy enforcer, and service delivery platform device that is coupled to a predictive, self-adaptive, self-optimizing, fault-sensing, self-healing, and secure intelligent electric grid infrastructure

Got all that?  Essentially, the disclosed policy networking system allows a utility company to integrate many different smart grid and metering features into a single device. 

The utility can then control and manage it all according to its chosen “policy,” i.e., the rules, conditions and actions the utility implements for, say, optimizing the energy efficiency of its customers.

Partial and full acquisitions of smart grid startups are increasingly commonplace.  Another Greentech Media article reported that EnerNoc also bought a few startups recently, including a Colorado energy management startup called SmallFoot.

Philips Targets PixelRange with Multiple Multicolor LED Patents

April 15th, 2010

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Koninklijke Philips Electronics and Philips Solid State Lighting Solutions (collectively “Philips”) sued Pixelrange and UK lighting company James Thomas Engineering last month, accusing the defendants of infringing six patents relating to LED systems. 

The complaint (philips_dmass_complaint.pdf), filed in Massachusetts district court, lists U.S. Patent Nos. 6,250,774 (‘250,774 Patent), 6,016,038 (‘038 Patent), 6,150,774 (‘150,774 Patent), 6,806,659 (‘659 Patent), 6,788,011 (‘011 Patent) and 6,975,079 (‘079 Patent) and alleges that the PixelLine Micro W product (shown above) infringes the asserted patents.

The ‘250,774 patent is entitled “Luminaire” and is directed to an LED package for street lighting that uses the generated light more efficiently. 

According to the patent, a major disadvantage of some existing luminaires is that the light doesn’t concentrate well into a beam and therefore a substantial percentage of the light projects outside the area or object to be illuminated.

The patented technology solves this problem and reduces energy use by focusing the individual beams of multiple LED lighting units such that each narrow beam only hits a portion of the area or object. 

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The claimed luminaire (1) (shown above) has a housing (10), a light emission window (11) and a set of lighting units (20), each having at least one LED chip (30) and an optical system (40), with the lighting units illuminating respective portions of an object.

The ‘038, ‘150,774, ‘659 and ‘011 Patents comprise a chain of related patents entitled “Multicolored LED lighting method and apparatus” and are directed to computer controlled multicolored LED networks. 

According to these patents, the inventions overcome some of the problems associated with integrating multiple LEDs of different colors, intensity levels and power ratings.

These patents describe a pulse width modulated current control where each lighting unit is uniquely addressable via a controller and capable of receiving illumination color information on a computer lighting network.  

Multiple integrated circuits at respective nodes are operatively connected to a light module (100) with LED sets (120, 140, 160), which each contain a series or parallel array of LEDs of various colors.

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The ‘079 Patent, entitled “Systems and mehtods for controlling illumination sources,” relates to methods of providing control signals for LED lighting systems to control light output.  The methods can take into account the response of a viewer to different light output levels and convert data inputs to output control signals that adjust the light output levels accordingly.

I Want My MTPV: Recovering Waste Heat By Micron-Gap Thermal Photovoltaics

April 11th, 2010

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I read an interesting article in The Economist’s most recent Technology Quarterly about new ways to recycle waste heat from power plants and other types of machinery such as computers. 

In the power generation context this typically is done using a heat recovery unit to capture heat from a combustion unit’s exhaust stream.

Another way to way to recycle waste heat is to capture infrared radiation emitted by hot objects using photovoltaic cells. 

The difficulty with this approach is that only photons that travel at a near perfect right angle to the surface of the hot material can escape and be picked up by PV cells.  Photons traveling at any other angle are reflected back inside the material.

One of the companies profiled in the Economist article is Boston, Massachusetts startup MTPV Corporation (MTPV), which takes its name from an acronym for a technology called micron-gap thermal photovoltaics. 

MTPV discovered that by placing PV cells just a few hundred nanometers from a hot surface of silicon carbide alloy – so the gap is smaller than the wavelength of the infrared radiation – the photons are not reflected inward but instead continue to travel into the PV cells.

According to MTPV’s web site, U.S. Patent No. 6,084,173 (‘173 Patent), entitled “Method and apparatus for the generation of charged carriers in semiconductor devices,” is its “fundamental” patent on the micron-gap technology. 

The ‘173 Patent is directed to methods of enhancing electrical current generation in a conductive surface by adjusting the gap between a hot surface and the conductive surface to the order of microns or submicrons.

The MTPV web site describes U.S. Patent No. 6,232,546 (‘546 Patent) as a version 1 “implementation” patent.  The ‘546 Patent is entitled “Microcavity apparatus and systems for maintaining a microcavity over a macroscale area” and is directed to a microscale generator (10) having two elements (14, 16) within a vacuum (12).  

The first element (14) acts as a thermal source for transferring energy and a second facing element (16) receives the energy transferred.

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Moveable panels (18) are disposed on one of the elements.  The panels (18) are thermally coupled to element (14) and spaced from facing element (16) a predetermined, sub-micron distance to efficiently couple the energy between the elements so it can be converted to electricity.

To maintain and control the requisite sub-micron distance between the elements, each individual panel includes spring-like actuating flexures (20).  These flexures (20) urge each panel (18) towards facing element (16) to maintain the predetermined sub-micron spacing between the elements.

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Each panel (18) has its own flexures (20) so the panels act independently of each other to conform to and compensate for surface variations in element (16).

In addition to the ‘173 and ‘546 Patents, MTPV owns U.S. Patent Applications Pub. Nos. 2008/0060694, 2009/0188549 and 2009/0277488.  According to the company’s web site MTPV continues to innovate and grow its patent portfolio:

The intellectual property continues to extend with six pending patent applications and over fifty disclosures in addition to ongoing research and development efforts.

Samsung, Toshiba et al. Accused of Infringing Energy Conservation Circuit Patent

April 1st, 2010

A company called Commonwealth Research Group LLC (Commonwealth) filed a patent infringement suit last month against a number of technology companies, accusing them of infringing a patent relating to an energy saving system for electronic devices.

The complaint (commonwealth_complaint.pdf), filed in federal court in Delaware, asserts U.S. Patent No. 6,026,493 (‘493 Patent) against Samsung, Toshiba, NXP Semiconductors and Renesas Technology.

The ‘493 Patent is directed to electronic circuitry that conserves energy by turning off or reducing power to selected chip components.  A disclosed embodiment involving powering a tape recorder is shown below.  The embodiment comprises a circuit having two relays (12, 18).

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In its normal position, the second relay (18) supplies continuous power to the power bus.  The first relay (12) is designed to lock open as long as power is maintained on the power bus.   

Tape sensor prongs (27) momentarily connect on a passing cassette tape (26) to energize the second relay (18).  When the second relay (18) is energized, the power bus loses power, and the first relay (12) returns to the normal position with no power supplied to the tape recorder (14).

It is unclear from the complaint who or what Commonwealth is.  The complaint does not say anything about the company except that it is a Virginia corporation that owns all rights to the ‘493 Patent. 

The only other information I could find on the internet was through a search of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office assignments database, which lists a Washington, DC address for Commonwealth. 

Commonwealth has requested a preliminary and permanent injunction, which would require the company to explain how it’s been harmed by the alleged infringement.  More details are likely to come out at that time.

Wartsila and Topsoe Make Methane Into Energy With First Landfill Gas Fuel Cell Unit

March 28th, 2010

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An interesting article from Distributed Energy magazine discusses a methane gas-fed fuel cell power unit developed by diesel and gas engine maker Wartsila.  According to the article, the Finnish company’s WFC20 is the first solid oxide fuel cell unit run on methane rich landfill gas.

Wartsila has finished the first phase of its validation program for the fuel cell unit, which has been in successful operation for more than 1500 hours. 

Wartsila owns several international patent applications relating to power plant technology, including combined cycle operating methods that recycle waste heat and a method of operating a combined fuel cell – piston engine plant.

The WFC20 is based on planar solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) technology supplied by Danish fuel cell maker Topsoe Fuel Cell A/S (Topsoe).  According to Topsoe’s web site, SOFC fuel cells are the most efficient fuel cells available, recuperating the heat from its high operational temperature. 

Topsoe owns several international patent applications directed to its SOFC technology and fuel cell stacks, including Application No. PCT/EP2008/000527 (‘527 Application).

The ‘527 Application is directed to an SOFC stack and clamping structure that uses a flexible sheet instead of conventional planar end plate flanges.  This reduces the amount of material needed for the fuel cell stack.  

The SOFC stack is inserted between two insulating blocks (12) (second insulating block on opposite side not shown).  The flexible sheet 15 is forced into a convex shape when in contact with the insulating end block 12.

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According to the ‘527 Application, the flexible sheet 15 does not have to withstand bending forces so the mechanical tension lies in the plane of the flexible sheet, thus avoiding deformation of the fuel cell components.   The compressive force is obtained after clamping using nuts 8, springs 7 and tie rods 6.